Apologies to all who were born and raised in Ottawa, Illinois.
I am sorry. I will say that upfront.
I am stepping over some lines and perhaps on some toes of those who have more proper claims on this small town.
So be it. Forgive me.
But (drum roll please), I now plant my flag and proclaim publicly that Ottawa is my hometown.
Now Webster allows me to do this. As defined, a “hometown” can simply be your principal residence. Where you live most of the time.
So I’m legit, but I do feel a bit of guilt that I was not actually born in Ottawa.
And … (whispering now) … I don’t actually live in the city limits. I’m a short walk away.
I’m still staking my claim.
I don’t really have a personal flag to plant. That was just an overplayed play on words.
But I do have an address and a real attachment to the weedy lawn I mow. And what we have planted are plenty of flowers and some important trees.
And family roots.
Last week the youngest son visited and I took the obligatory photo of him standing in front of his pine tree in the corner of the yard.
It’s a towering monster now but was less than 6 inches tall when he brought it home from Wallace Grade School.
This house. This plot of land has been home for two sons. Both born and raised here.
We’ve made our mark. We’re embedded.
Actually, I do have history to help document my ties. Before we came here, my family tree already had many sprouts grow up in Ottawa and the area.(I discovered much of this after moving here.)
I’ve lived many places for short times. And I admit a sentimental attachment to some of them.
But I choose Ottawa.
Saying a specific location is home involves a lot more than geography, though.
More than a mailing address.
I guess it’s built around family, friends and memories with connections that thread throughout the community.
I’m not sure how that evolves. Do you absorb a community or does it absorb you?
Lots of little things start to add up.Things that pretty much revolve around events and people.
Like the annual cruise night. Lots of cars and music …and you walk the street wolfing salty popcorn. You spend more time talking to people you bump into than ogling the muscle cars.
The vintage cars were a good excuse. A good backdrop for a “Hi” and “How are ya.”
Like your favorite shoes. It’s a good fit. Feels right.
The annual book sale in the park is a bit different. You are there for the books.
But there’s a camaraderie. You edge into the flock. Birds of a feather clucking over titles and the need to find more.
For me, though, it has been more than events and scenery. I walk among stories.
After 30 years as managing editor of the local paper, I know lots of names and faces — many I’ve never met. Except through words. Their stories.
I guess that’s kept me connected on a different level.
I’d like to think I helped build the community. After all that’s what community is — people and their voices. What they say … and do.
For years I worked with a great crew to plug into those voices. Share those stories. Shine a light on those working to make it a better place.
A place to call home.
It’s not all happy dance, of course. That’s why you slice open problems, too. And try to find causes and fixes. Make good things happen.
I’ve watched the good and the bad through the lens of a newsroom. But also as a person who lives here. Raised two sons here. Invested. Proud.
Again, there’s that comfortable fit.
I know you can do this with most any town you live in. Raise kids. Build a network of friends. Feel safe and somewhat secure.
So, yeah, home is about geography. That’s probably a huge part of staying attached to where the roots have been planted.
The rest of it … the willingness and ease of calling a place home … gets more complicated.
And very personal.
And harder to explain … with words alone.
We love to travel. See new places. Have those little adventures. But it always feels good when the nose is turned around and you’re headed home.
The place where you feel better. Where you seem to belong. Where important parts of you await your return.
Where you decide to remain.
Even if circumstances pull us away, we’ll be back.
I’m at that stage in life when you start thinking about final days. Where to put those remains.
The wife and I seem comfortable with Ottawa. Plain and simple, there’s too much here that is important to us. Too much history.
Too much to leave behind.
So in the end, we’ll be part of it.
For me, the reason is simple enough.
This is my hometown.
LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.